Flash storage vendor STEC is super-sizing the kind of flash storage used in smartphones and portable music players, coming out on Monday with 2TB SSDs in configurations for equipment vendors.
The SSDs (solid-state drives) being announced Monday can match many spinning hard disks for capacity, while their flash technology excels at speed and efficiency. Manufacturers will be able to build the drives into storage arrays or put them right into servers, depending on which type of interface they choose.
Flash is moving closer to the mainstream of enterprise storage, with IT shops adopting it where they need fast access to data. The capacities of flash components are steadily growing, while some shortcomings that held the technology back are being overcome. STEC's new SSDs are made using MLC (multilevel cell) flash, the type used in consumer products, which is less expensive than earlier enterprise flash technologies.
STEC says its 2TB s840 SAS SSD and its 2TB s1120 PCIe Accelerator SSD make up the first family of 2TB flash parts with products for both types of interfaces. SAS is the typical interface for high-capacity hard drives in storage arrays, while PCIe is used in a growing number of flash components that attach directly to servers for fast access to heavily used data. STEC's new drives have roughly twice the capacity of its previous generation. They are being evaluated by system makers and will be available in February, the company said.
A version of each of those products will be available with unlimited write capability for five years, a typical useful life for storage gear. SSDs are prone to degrading and losing capacity over time, which puts them at a disadvantage against hard drives, but STEC said it has overcome that tendency with its CellCare hardware and firmware used in its flash controllers.
Controller technologies such as CellCare have eliminated concerns about the "write life" of most new-generation SSDs, IDC analyst Jeff Janukowicz said. Bigger SSDs, like STEC's new 2TB products, make it easier to ensure a long lifespan because there is more space to carry out "wear-leveling," which distributes the level of use around a drive, he said.
"Now it really comes down to being able to deliver the performance and the cost points that many of the enterprise customers are looking for," Janukowicz said. Typically, flash is faster but more expensive per bit than hard drives.
MLC flash has overtaken the more expensive SLC (single-level cell) technology that enterprise storage used to require, according to Janukowicz. Just last year, it surpassed the older technology in shipments, he said. Despite its roots in less sophisticated consumer-level storage, MLC flash can meet enterprise standards for durability with some added features, he said. It's less expensive than SLC because it can store more data on the same size SSD, and because it's produced in massive volumes for consumer products.
Meanwhile, flash as a whole is also making gains in enterprise gear, with several startups making all-flash storage arrays, he said. Some have been acquired by larger vendors, including IBM and EMC. However, most enterprises that have adopted flash also continue to use hard disk drives, he said.
Server software announced
Also on Monday, STEC is releasing an update to its EnhanceIO SSD Cache Software, which uses algorithms to identify the most-needed data for an application and caches it on flash. STEC has extended EnhanceIO's support for Windows server OSes to Windows 2012 and has added a "write-back" caching mode in which some data is written only to the SSD. The company has also made EnhanceIO work with the Hyper-V and Xen hypervisors in addition to VMware.
EnhanceIO works with hardware from multiple vendors and comes with management software to help IT managers set up new flash caches. The software can be integrated into the platforms that system manufacturers build with STEC flash.
The s840 SAS SSD and s1120 PCIe Accelerator SSD will cost US$7,995 and $9,425, respectively. The EnhanceIO SSD Cache Software is sold on an annual license for each physical or virtual server. It costs $295 for Linux servers and $495 for Windows servers. The update announced Monday will be available immediately, free to current license holders.